“Who are we to deny a gift from the Gods?”
The immortal aspect of fame is running theme American Horror Story likes to recycle, adding a different stylistic verve to its old frills whenever necessary and refreshing the story. Here, this recycled theme works probably better than it ever has, as both a love letter to the silent film era and a way to develop a central character: The Countess, Elizabeth. If there is one thing I have particularly admired about Hotel, it is the vignette-style character studies. As choppy as they can be in relation with other episodes, they tend to pack a thematic and emotional punch, adding a human touch to this otherwise excessively undead, murderous world. Say what you want about AHS, but they never manage to truly isolate the humanity from the darkness or from central themes. In perhaps the most tightly-packed and amply paced installment of the season yet, “Flicker” fulfills its purpose in further explaining how Elizabeth became the Countess and enticing us with more questions.
Returning from Paris, Elizabeth finds that one of Will Drake’s renovations have unleashed something…something that even sends a shiver down her spine—a rare sensation for the icy Countess, as even Iris points out. There are secrets to Elizabeth’s labyrinth that she is not even familiar with and that unnerves her. It should unnerve everyone. The mystery is soon revealed through more than several lengthy flashbacks, beginning in Hollywood 1925. An unsurprising development, Elizabeth began with an aspiration geared towards acquiring great fame. Something that would make her immortal, at least in a figurative sense. More surprising however is how she began—almost a polar opposite of the stone-cold ice queen Countess she is today; meek, naïve and curious—a mouse. She quickly falls into the hands of two alluring cats, Rudolpho Valentino (a revamped Finn Wittrock) and Natacha Rambova (Alexandra Daddario).
This attractive Hollywood couple beings Elizabeth’s journey into heartbreak and loss. Very quickly the young mouse is forced into a corner when tragedy strikes and she falls into the hands of a much darker individual: James Patrick March. He isn’t gentle with Elizabeth unlike her two first loves. Mr. March brings out a darkness in her that has clearly laid dormant until stimulated. Murder isn’t even off limits. It’s all too much too fast—an excessive platter of pleasures. It is an enthralling experience that gives Elizabeth a taste of what it’s like to live in style—sounded by beautiful things and macabre distraction. And that’s just what it is—distraction. One flicker at a time, she is mesmerized. Her new found proclivities are a revelation until she gets bored with them. Seduction leads to immortality—an excess of life.
Elizabeth’s lovers find significance in an ancient blood virus, discovered by the great German director, F. W. Murnau found in the Carpathian Mountains, a setting where vampire lore is apparently abound. The theatrics are worthy of this story, focused, lean, and executed with a strong narrative voice. The actors are up for it, even Lady Gaga herself, who shows more range in this one episode than she has all season. Everyone seems eager to judge the celebrity on her acting skills (or lack thereof). Here, Gaga’s performance is a mixed bag. Not always convincing but up to snuff where it matters most. Much like life everlasting it has its flickers of brilliance and its moments of doubt…
After finally killing off real estate goon, Marcy (Christine Estabrook), Valentino and Natacha dine on a trio of Aussie beefcakes and are restored to their former glamorous aesthetic and glory, out in the world and ready to wreak more havoc, no doubt. Mr. March has an eternal hold on the Countess in some way. Being the one who first introduced her to the allure of darkness, he feels as if she is forever compelled to him. Perhaps the man is even in love in his own twisted way. He is eager to the point of committing a great betrayal by locking Elizabeth’s immortal lovers into the very walls of her great labyrinth for at least half a century.
The betrayal that is revealed also carries some emotional weight to it unlike the subplot involving John and another one of the Countess’s eternal children, Wren. The only thing that makes these scenes worthwhile are the inventive camera directions. John Lowe’s growing inability to see what is right in front of him is troubling and is probably a testament to just how unhinged he has become. He’s either lying to himself out of convenience (for the character himself or the writers, I’m no longer sure) or is officially blind. John’s conversation with Wren is littered with innuendos of the deadly variety. These illusions aren’t tricking anyone but John himself. If past is prologue, he’ll find himself covered in blood again soon. “Flicker” gets 4 out of 5 stars!
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